Estate Planning: Program Ensures Pets Make It ‘home Again’

Planning one’s estate for the end of life means a lot of decisions and uncertainty, but those naming the Humane Society of Southwest Washington (HSSW) as a recipient in their wills might feel some relief.

HSSW recently started a Home Again Pet Guardian program where those naming the humane society in their wills can also designate the organization to care for their pets after they are gone. The program is relatively new. HSSW Vice President of Development Brittany Gosselin explained that it was was formalized last year following work on an overarching estate planning program for the society.

Gosselin explained that the idea for the program came about from donors looking out for their beloved companions.

“The number one concern that (donors) had was who was going to take care of their pets when they died,” Gosselin said. Donors were integral through the process of coming up with the program, she added, noting their input shaped much of what Home Again entails.

Up to six pets can be looked after by the humane society through the program, Gosselin said. Those looking to take advantage of the program must be estate donors naming HSSW as the recipient of a minimum $10,000 gift, according to information from the organization. 

As part of the program, donors fill out detailed pet profiles of their animals for the staff, foster owners and future adopters.

“If a cat has lived a very quiet life with a senior that doesn’t get many visitors, we want to match it with a similar home … certainly not place it in a home with four small children,” Gosselin gave as an example.

So far, Gosselin said about 25 people have signed up for the new program. She noted that a donor’s death isn’t the only way pets can be cared for by the humane society. If a donor enters a long-term care facility or hospice the program can also kick in. It’s ultimately up to the donor when that transfer happens.

Animals covered in the program won’t necessarily be arriving at the shelter. Gosselin explained that care of the animals could be delegated to others in a will or through estate planning. In the chance that a designee couldn’t care for an animal, however, the humane society will look after the pet.  

Gosselin also noted that animals in Home Again can immediately be put into the humane society’s foster program, lessening the shock of a switch from their previous living arrangements.

“A lot of these (animals) are alumni of the shelter,” Gosselin said, adding that many pet owners wanted to avoid having their rescued animals end up back in a shelter.

According to a release from the humane society, the pets receive a full medical evaluation and some “tender loving care from HSSW’s dedicated staff” is provided to alleviate any stress the pet has during transition into a new home.

HSSW Vice President of Marketing Denise Barr said that allowing animals to remain with their owners up until they can no longer care for them was a benefit to older owners given the comfort and companionship they can offer.

“So many people have had dogs and cats throughout their lifetime, and they would like to have them until the end of their lifetime,” Barr said, noting the major barrier was what happens to animals once their owner dies. She said that often seniors are in a time of their life when spouses and loved ones have already passed and may have feelings of loneliness.

“It’s the perfect time for them to have a cat or a dog,” Barr remarked.

Gosselin noted that through Home Again individuals can make sure that all parts of estate planning can be covered including what happens to their animals.

“It gives people a real sense that they have taken care of everything and they know that their animal, whatever happens to them, will be cared for the way they cared for them,” Gosselin said. 

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Estate Planning: Program Ensures Pets Make It ‘home Again’


Estate Planning: Program Ensures Pets Make It ‘home Again’